Festivals - Fantasia 2020 : Clapboard jungle - Justin McConnell’s interview

By Mulder, Canada, Quebec, 26 august 2020

Clapboard Jungle is an unvarnished chronicle, with Justin McConnell not hesitating to show his disappointments and moments of doubt during the long and arduous journey of film production. There are also moments of triumph, such as when his horror film Lifechanger (Fantasia 2018) finds itself in front of the cameras. Through his own experiences, McConnell smears observations from a wide range of actors, from the great masters (Guillermo del Toro, George A. Romero, Tom Holland, Mick Garris), rebels (Larry Cohen, Larry Fessenden, Frank Henenlotter, Buddy Giovinazzo), veteran actors (Dick Miller, Barbara Crampton, Sid Haig, Michael Biehn) and independent sensations (Gigi Saul Guerrero, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, Jenn Wexler, Mike Mendez, Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer). Their lyrics will fascinate fans and enlighten aspiring filmmakers looking for role models. And not only those who want to scare the audience...

Q : Hello Justin, to begin with I would like to applaud you for this excellent documentary. I felt like I was attending a real film class because your documentary is so exciting.

Justin McConnell : merci beaucoup. Thanks a lot.

Q : Your documentary movie follows five years in your life and career as an independent filmmaker. After The collapsed (2011), Skull World (2013), Broken Mile (2016), Lifechanger (2018), this is you third documentary movie. What can you tell us about the origins of this one

Justin McConnell : So the way that this came together was in early 2014 I was trying to figure out how to make a project that essentially can make out of my own pocket I had a little bit of extra money from my post production business I knew that it would be awhile before I was able to get a bigger budget together for like narrative feature or movie or something like that so I thought back a little bit and I just released my previous documentaries Skull world about 6 months earlier and I thought I might as well do another documentary and in a similar kind of way where I could shoot it on the side and it would be a side project that I would gradually just shoot on my own time I could drop a couple thousand dollars and cheap but good camera gear and just produce it whenever I have the time or the access or what I was traveling somewhere and. It just became a national thing it was a thing out of necessity where I went okay well if I'm going to make a film and I'm gonna make a film about the reality of filmmaking I don't really have money to follow anybody else so I. I just done and says the bigger the best the best way to do it would just be really personal and turn the camera myself get what you get as many interviews likely to support it and form it into something and at the time it was pretty loose when I first started making this I didn't have a clear vision of what the movie would be entirely because I have lived I just knew that I wanted to be able to demonstrate sort of how an independent filmmaker I case study of how dependent the maker actually operates these days and then support was much better so yeah it was very much just what can I do how can I afford it and how can I get into production quickly and it just it started from here.

Q : For this documentary movie, you have met a lot of great directors as Guillermo del Toro, George A. Romero, Tom Holland, Mick Garris. How it was difficult to approach theses are ?

Justin McConnell : Yes and no. I mean I I got these interviews from a lot of different ways I knew some of them already from the circuit or whatever it happens to be I reached out to their agents or managers in some cases with people like Guillermo Del Toro and George Romero and Charles band and tons of others, I have an associate producer on the project Chris Alexander who was the former editor of Fangoria magazine stock he already knew them and have access to them so it was through him that we're able to approach them and get them set up set up and they agreed to do the interview that way so I got really got to thank Chris there but really what it was at the in the within the first 6 months of production since I've been to fantasia and I reached out to specific people attending the festival that year in 2014 and I've gotten already Tom Savini and some people and John McNaughton I had announced kinda known people in the field in the first 6 months that when I went to approach new people it almost it does validated project in some way so if they would get an email that says these people already kind of done it please we'd love for you to you know just very earnest and honest you know this is what we like to do I'm gonna be here on this day make it really easy for you would like to sit down for an interview will be a big you know it and it was very grass roots so because I was coming in it was usually just me myself and my gear and it wasn't that a big crew and they had to like you know it wasn't a big production that didn't have to take it on time with their day you do wherever they were and I was usually coming to them it just it was an easy ask for a lot of people so it was just more making sure that it was it would be an interesting interview and that it wouldn't be a big inconvenience for people a lot of people yes.

Q : Can you tell us about your filming, more specifically the locations where you shot this film? More specifically how was your time in France in Cannes during the Cannes Festival and the film market ?

Justin McConnell : okay so the first time I went to Cannes was in 2015 but I've been every year or sense might this year was the first year didn't physically go but I was still in the digital version of Marché du film. But I think that trip opened my entire world up to some degree because previously I started going to the American film market AFM in 2008 or 2009. I think maybe 2009 was my first year so I've been going to American film market this isn't in the movie but I've been going to the American film market every year in LA in November for multiple years there were some years I skipped but I already kind of have experience and market specifically. But the American film market is largely to sell finished and like stuff that's already done it's it's not a great packaging market you can get stuff made there but it's toward the end of the year when it comes to all the markets you got Berlin Conn del Mart and all these markets and then yes I'm comes starting your the end. You can get a lot done but it will it's kind of like a training wheels market was market you went to get your feet wet and understand how markets work and sort of get a little bit but that I want to Cannes “Marché du film” and not the whole world that's the entire world the people who don't go to the American film market they're all gone and it's 80 first of all it's the southern France which is beautiful it's such a gorgeous place the major business the weather is iwonderful it rains from time to time but the weather is wonderful the food is wonderful and so just as a trip it's it's great but the market itself is very inviting. We felt very inviting very open and you have the opportunity to take meetings with lots and lots and lots of people even your first year out but then once you start going every year you can really get the gears moving even more or at least that's the hope you know it if you learn to market you then you can apply what you know in the next year. So I definitely had a great time I definitely see the value in a market like that and I would recommend once it's safe to do so that any upcoming filmmaker anybody with you know that wants to really learn how this goes to get involved in some way shape or form marcher isn't. As expensive as you may think if you're smart about how you spend your money so I yeah it was definitely a life changing experience to.

Q : For you, what is the importance of festivals in the worldwide career of a film?

Justin McConnell : How festival are important. I program for 2 festivals. I mean to put it bluntly there the tastemakers for the independent world. Any festival can help direct no ideas toward a film or make people aware of this but there's a certain circuits of festivals from the top to the bottom you know your biggest ones with your Sundance is your Cannes on your tip your Venice things like that they're the tastemakers for this a certain high level for the most part in these to get in there but for the most part they're kind of it's not the award winners for the year up to the big releases from the studios they kind of set that then there's another tier below that you're fantastic that's your fantasia, Sitges. just things like that those are really important particularly to the genre world because if you get into one of those festivals that's also a lot more validation which could lead you to distribution it can lead you to a ton of Press thanks you know yeah this interview right here. it leads you basically to a greater kind of positions you want a more Elevated spot in the market place because there are thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of films released year and festivals help cut through that noise by telling audiences people; this is a good film and you should check it out and if enough festival select one film it puts on the maps or worldwide because it starts a conversation going and that conversation could lead all kinds of actions so it's really just it's teams of trusted curators that people can know are going to deliver high quality content for their audiences each year either the festivals are brand as well right so they're establishing themselves and fantasia is the place you go for the first look at some of the best jobs in the world and that's an established fact what and they've been running for 20 years so if you get into fantasia and your film is not associated with this established taste making outlets so it is it really depends on festival but certain festivals once you get into them help make your film success it's just as easy as that will stay like that for the rest of our lifetimes I don't know but right now even in the days of covid at these festivals matter.

Q : What memories do you keep of your visit last year at the Fantasia festival and at the strange festival in Paris to present your film Lifechanger?

Justin McConnell : Well that's festival run was ill it was incredible. I have traveled all over the world with it to have a movie premiere at fantasia has been a dream of mine since I was like 18. I mean I think I first heard about fantasia to the back of a Fangoria magazine in 1999 and I'd want to go to it as a as a viewer for years and I've started going to in 2013 as a programmer I was just my goal is like I have to get. Because I kind of I had a movie called the collapse that Mitch had said he wanted to play all the way back in 2010 and I took a TV deal before the festival first and I wasn't able to play because the TV rights for Canada so I've been waiting to play the festival 1 this time and I finally got to play it and it was yeah it was a bucket list but then I got to travel so I went to Paris for muskellunge and and Paris is such a beautiful city and I basically France 3 times because we played utopia Alice's well and we also played Gerardmer so I I'm based I only went to 2 of those but it was at 6 months I try loose France 3 times basically because I went to its economy as well so it's like a second home at yours but you know I went to South Korea to be signed. It traveling opens up your world I used to do that I used to speed camera operator on a travel show back in 2008 I got to travel to China and Russia. Australia but the more places you see the more perspective you get on the world outside and the more that sort of informs you as a person in a lot of ways and I think it's one of those sort of French side benefits of being an independent filmmaker is being able to travel to these places with your work is just it it's not like it's a necessity but it does give you additional incentive to keep creating it because we want to do that again and you want to experience that you know there there's definitely great things about being a comic and that's what I eat not everybody gets to experience that but you can it's there it's a possibility that so yeah I Can not complain about that in my life it was it was it was really something special and I feel like this year I'd be paying for that to some degree but the whole world for whatever right now so this is what it is.

Q : What do you think are the ingredients for a good documentary film ?

Justin McConnell : I don't think there's only one answer for that. I think a good documentary first of all it's in the eye of the beholder right one person's good documentary is someone else's terrible documentary is so ultimately I think as long as it's honest and it doesn't forget that it's also movie and needs to be entertaining too and as long as it doesn't come across as something that is to service and to reality TV like that little to stage a little too. you can feel the hand of the creator of the story. I think the what if you have those 3 things you're on your way to having a very good documentary. There's a lot of really good documentaries where you can tell that the filmmakers themselves influenced apple store it was gonna take and I do have trouble with the water even when they end up being good movies to watch there's a certain journalistic integrity you want to you want to maintain. But that being said it at the end of the day it may change the world that may make people learn things whatever the purpose of your film is you still have to keep the audience so I think. If you're learning and you are excited and entertained while watching it that's a good. And you know whatever little NIT pick you want to give to it that's your prerogative but you know it's ultimately it's delivering on those goals then that's good documentary.

Q : What were the main difficulties encountered during the making of this documentary film ?

Justin McConnell : main difficulties. Well part of it was I didn't know when I'd be done shooting entirely because I didn't know I kinda shot until I had an actual story arc until I felt like I had a complete something like ending basically and part of that was like if I had to finish the bill before like junior made it would be a very different and it will it wouldn't have the emotional pay off at the end and the uplifting sort of somebody striving for their dreams and I'm not saying that I completely reach my dreams of life changer but I you know there's an art to it there's a there's a built you know yeah it's structured like rocky to some degree you know to some degree but the point is is that I first of all figured out okay now is the time to stop shooting and the start really putting this thing together that was a tough thing to figure out and keeping objectivity when I'm the director and the subject of the film was also really difficult to. I am part of that was just like surround myself with a good team and I test on you to make sure and I remove myself from that process to make sure that I have a very clear notes from a large variety of people that would tell me okay yes this best to remove anything sought to self-serving about it that makes sense that was a big thing and just see if the post production in general was not nightmare is over 300 hours of raw footage takes a long time to put together we're talking like several months of just sorting interview footage it by topic you know having a Lisa Muckle our assistant editor spending several months and that was that was you know a lot of work was difficult. Just trying to hammer all that footage down in the single 90 to 100 that story was very challenging to say the least it sent out a document I love documentaries on the 3 of them because they're so much work. There's so much especially post brexit so much work but worth it in the end I think it all worth it for sure.

Q : Have you ever thought of writing a book on the film industry and more precisely on the different phases of film creation ? This movie is so interested that I have already spoken to a lot of my friends and say them that they must see this one.

Justin McConnell : Thank you. I mean a lot about books and thought about podcasts we have the 8 episode TV series were in post-production on right now there's many a lot of extended content. It really is just comes out of how many hours I have been the day and how big I can actually expand this without but you know if I if I'm the only one doing it ultimately it's just it's a drain a lot of other things I wanted to so it's a possibility but there are a lot there's a lot of books about. At that link there's a lot. I probably have a unique perspective on that but whether or not I actually decide to go down that route or not remains to be seen when there's still so much to create and they can put out there are no additional sort of way with all of the raw footage because and you know then that we have been thinking about a podcast too because you can take the interview snippets and working through a podcast story along with guests and things like there's so many different possibilities it's just early days right now so I would see you know ask you here and then we'll see how things have gone.

Q : what do you retain from the shooting of the movie Lifechanger? What did you learn about it ?

Justin McConnell : I'm always get more days on set if you can that was a big one and another one is in it this is silly but. We were making an indie film there you don't wanna cut corners and there was one specific day where I had we had a really complicated day where was I we had a fight scene of murder and all this it was in my head it was one way why was finally executed it was another way and the behind the scenes story there is we booked a location with the apartment owner but we didn't talk to the landlord so toward the end of the day the landlord showed up got really angry and tried to shut us down so we had to rush through a massive shot was very short on get the hell out of there and then negotiate act keep which. It was an oversight on our part that was a rough day but it also you could it's reflected in the execution of the movie and that what like it I still think the scenes all right but like now compared to what was in my head and what we have planned out it and that was just a logistical issue so I think a part of it is it's it's measure twice cut once right it's huge you do as much work as you can in pre-production so that when issues happen on set you've already got that all figured out and you try not to forget anything ahead of time you think of every possibility because if you don't that's when you have run into problems on set that can actually affect your felt entirely on theirs. I learned so much I'm not sure but we don't have time.

Q : Can you tell us an anecdote about one of your interviews that we can discover in this documentary movie ?

Justin McConnell : The John McNaughton interview we tried to do it in the hotel first in the backyard courtyard it was in the new bell hotel in during Fantasia anyway every time we set up the shot either a lot more would start from their garden style would somebody would walk through the shock or child would run by and I think it took 4, 5 different time setting up the camera and starting the interview before we actually were able to get through the entire year we just had to keep bringing it down setting up an open a new location and there's even I'm cutting it into one of the episodes there's even a thing where John says this is it right here this is filming its you plan for one thing and then you better be on your toes and be ready to move to a new location and start all over again because anything wrong because it was a perfect encapsulation of making right there the actual act of making films is whatever that can go wrong Michael wrong you got to be ready to like because you're.

Q : Between your first documentary movie and this one there is a seven-year gap... Have you seen any significant differences in your approach to filmmaking ?

Justin McConnell : I mean I'm always learning I have to be if I'm not if you're not learning you're making a big mistake absolutely I buy every movie I've made I've learned on and I but I would call a 7 year gap because I literally started producing this within 6 months of releasing the last one so it's yeah I think the moment you think you know everything you should Gestapo Cooper says in the documentary best among you think you're good you should quit because we also lock in some way so we're we always have to better ourselves that's that is being artists you know hating what you do and doing better the next.

Q : Who are your favorite directors and which films are the main driving force behind your artistic creation ?

Justin McConnell : I'll be here all day listing this. I'm all over the game in terms of their directors you know I love people like all hundreds. George Romero and others who are real Mavericks in the business that kind of made went their own way and made stuff that weren't really influenced by the studio system and what are the audience wanted and told like stories that meant something to them and then over time they need something to a lot of other people because you know they weren't talking specifically to an audience they were talking about something. I loved makers like that but by the same token. But you know. Yeah let me tell you know Katherine Bigelow and you know just like real workmanlike directors that. Figure out ways to slip in social commentary and importance and meaning to the work that they do in a way that down the line people realize that's what they were talking I'm I love that kind of record honestly we would be here forever listing people it's just I watched so many films that you know it can't I couldn't specifically saying I mean obviously I am a huge fan of John Carpenter. I grew up you know watching John Carpenter. I know that's I'm not the one say you that. I love tiny monsters Critters. Any movie with like little pint size monsters I'm all about that stuff it just but even it in dramas and comedies and sci fi I watch every genre under the sun I love you know martial arts films and it also allowed bloodshed movies from Hong Kong whatever it happens to be I watch it so I couldn't Possibly you know this is one of my favorite movies is plain and that's the restoration later on I love Day of the beast (Álex de la Iglesia). I love that movie I can't I can't possibly just say one favorite director I would be here all day

Q : What are you currently working on ?

Justin McConnell : Now we're still in post-production on the 8 episodes club or jungle series so that's a big part of it. I just finished a new short film that I shot each year by myself completely, Soul contact. And I'm finally enough to write. I just wrote an album with for it's like instant way metal industrial for project called city called Castle ridge. So yeah I'm writing music now too..

Synopsis :
Following five years in the life and career of an independent filmmaker, supported by dozens of interviews, posing one question: how does an indie filmmaker survive in the current film business?

Clapboard jungle
Directed by Justin McConnell
Produced by Justin McConnell, Darryl Shaw
Starring Michael Biehn, Larry Cohen, Barbara Crampton, Guillermo Del Toro, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Frank Henenlotter, George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Paul Schrader, Richard Stanley
Music by Sean Motley
Edited by : Kevin Burke, Justin McConnell
Running time : 98mns

(Source : Fantasia 2020 official website)